Have you thought about taking ICB Level 4 qualifications? Being an ICB Certified Bookkeeper in itself is a great achievement, but Level 4 qualifications might just be able to take your practice to the next stage. To see how we spoke to Chrissie Aplin C.MICB PM.Dip.

Do you think that offering Level 4 services such as self-assessment can help a bookkeeper grow their practice?

100%. The more services you offer, the wider your client base can be. I also find that many of these things are interlinked. So, you may have a sole trader who wants bookkeeping, but actually, if you only offer bookkeeping services then they’ve got to go elsewhere to get their self-assessment done at year-end, are they going to want that disjointed approach or are they going to want someone who can do it all?

It’s the same with the Financial Statements qualification [that qualifies you to prepare year-end accounts] for micro-entities. If you have a small business client with one or two directors, and you’re doing the bookkeeping and payroll, if you can do their year-end accounts as well, it’s all in one place for the client. You’re the one who understands their business because you have that day-to-day involvement with bookkeeping. So, if you are qualified, you’re well placed to do the year-end accounts.

‘’The more services you offer, the wider your client base can be’’

It’s not just about getting a variety of clients, but also about offering a whole package to clients and saying, ‘I can do all of that for you.’

Are there any Level 4 qualifications that you recommend a bookkeeper takes, such as Self Assessment, Corporation Tax or should they do all of them?

All of them would be of use, but I think self-assessment is the big one. I think when people think of self-assessment, they think of sole traders, which a lot of it is, but there is also the other side of self-assessment. I have clients who do self-assessment because they have property income. So, it might only be one small client, but it’s another client! And that client may recommend you to someone else. So, it doesn’t have to be a client for whom you get a monthly fee, it’s about having that wider client base. You’re more likely to get recommendations then and you’ve got more to build on.

"Self-assessment, in particular, is a very highly desirable service a bookkeeper can offer to their clients’’

Corporation Tax and Financial Statements are also good to do. The two go hand in hand. All these qualifications mean that you can offer a full bookkeeping service to people.

Why do clients pay more if you can do their tax return?

It’s about having that one trusted advisor. Bookkeepers know the ins and outs of their clients’ finances, so you are that trusted advisor. They have someone that they can go to and ask, ‘what allowances could I get this year?’ and things like that. If they can have that one person to go to, that is worth its weight in gold to them. They can develop a raport with you and you have a trusted relationship. That’s a big thing. I’ve seen, certainly, over the 12 months, clients want that listening ear.

Self-assessment, in particular, is a very highly desirable service a bookkeeper can offer to their clients. I’ve had people come to me saying that the thought of doing self-assessment sends them into a panic. For business owners, doing things like self-assessment and bookkeeping is not their main focus. They don’t want to be spending time doing it  when they can be doing something that they love – running their business. So, they would rather hire someone to do things like self-assessment for them.

Clients want your guidance. People don’t necessarily know if they can claim for things like mobile costs, broadband, things like that and so they might be scared to claim. But a bookkeeper can say, ‘well actually, that is a viable expense, so you can claim that.’

It is going to become even more important when Making Tax Digital for Income Tax gets rolled out because the records have to be there. That, again, will scare a lot of people because they don’t know where to start with accounting software. So, over the next couple of years, I think there is going to be even more demand for these services.

"Joining the ICB Facebook groups is very helpful’’

Did you have any concerns about expanding your services to include statutorily regulated areas such as tax and accounts?

I was nervous, like I was when I first started my practice. I knew that when I got my first income statement in front of me, it wasn’t going to be as straightforward as it was in the textbooks. I was also nervous about how much I was going to charge. But actually, it’s so important to be part of a professional body like ICB because you’ve got that help and support. You know that you can ring up the technical helpline if you’ve got a query about something. You’re not on your own. I was nervous but knowing I had help and support from ICB took away a lot of the nerves.

I also find that being part of a branch and joining the ICB Facebook groups is very helpful. Going back to self-assessment, you can ask people in the Facebook groups and your branch about it. It’s such a valuable resource.

Do you think that bookkeepers are the go-to for small business tax? If so, why?

I would say so. It’s around the fact that accounting firms work with bigger businesses, so someone who is just a sole trader who doesn’t have much bookkeeping and wants their tax returns done once every year isn’t going to be high on their priority list. Whereas for a bookkeeper, it’s a bigger client.

‘"There’s also no right or wrong time to do the qualifications. Take your time, it’s individual to you’’

Are there certain situations, or types of clients, that will always need the accountant and bookkeeper to work in tandem?

Absolutely. I’ve got clients who might fall into the micro-entity category, or certainly into the FRS102A, but their accounts are quite complicated, so I do the bookkeeping and the accountant does the tax advice. As businesses get bigger, it’s good to have an accountant for tax advice, tax planning and things like that – that’s where it’s essential. It’s great to have that relationship because you get the chance to build relationships with local accountants by doing that. So, I see it as a positive.

What would you say to someone thinking about enrolling on Level 4 qualifications?

I did the Level 4 qualifications alongside setting up my practice, and that worked out quite well. What I would say is you just do what is right for you. People learn at different speeds, have different ways of working and have different influences outside of their studies. So, what’s right for one person might not be the same for the next person. As with all studies, it’s about focusing on what you’re doing and not getting distracted by what someone else is doing.  Whether you’re doing a page a day, or a chapter a day, what does it matter? There’s also no right or wrong time to do the qualifications. Take your time, it’s individual to you.

If you have been inspired by Chrissie’s interview and would like to know more about the Level 4 qualifications we offer, check out our Bookkeeping Courses page, pick up a textbook in the online Shop, or call us on 0203 405 4000. You can also join the ICB Members Group to discuss Level 4 qualifications with your fellow bookkeepers.

You can read more about the benefits of broadening your services in our article Can you do someone's tax return?